Learn how to tension screens the right way and enhance the quality and efficiency of your work.
By Bron Wolff
In this industry, you can find about a million different theories on just about every aspect of the printing process, whether it be taking the lid off an ink bucket or tensioning screens. Despite the countless hours represented by the combined experience of printers throughout our industry, we still can't agree on many fundamental aspects of the printing process. It doesn't help matters that very few of us can offer scientific evidence to explain why our ways are the best ways.
Many misconceptions make their way into screen-printing books, magazine articles, and other literature, and a lot of what I see in print I don't agree with, or at least take exception to. I think that sometimes, despite good intentions, authors don't follow through with the complete story. Or they present information that's accurate only for certain situations, environments, or applications, but treat it as a universal truth that can be applied across the board.
Based on what I've been reading recently, there is some confusion about mesh tensioning. In response, I'd like to present my theories on the subject.
To me, there is only one way to tension mesh, and that is tightly. I can think of only one type of application in the industry where loose screens can be of any benefit. And that is with jobs involving some round or odd-shaped objects where lower tension allows the mesh to conform to the shape of the part.
In every flat-stock application, however, high tension produces better quality and faster production speeds. The down side, according to one author I recently read, is that you ruin more screens by using high tension. In my opinion, you only ruin high-tension screens if something else is wrong with your printing procedures. If you keep a lower off-contact height, reduce the pressure of the flood and squeegee strokes, keep dirt off the mesh and substrate, and keep press beds level, you'll be amazed at what the higher tension will do.
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